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Cell and Smart Phones

Cell and Smart Phones

MOBILE/CELL PHONES sometimes referred to in Korea as ‘hand or handee phones’, are widely used and easily available…for a price, however, if you are not Korean. Almost all of the service providers require that foreign residents pay a security deposit over and above the purchase price of the unit. That said, some KT and LG locations (head office or major centers) will allow foreign nationals to register for regular service with monthly payments made through the customer's Korean bank account or Korean credit card.
Various service plans are available although non-Koreas are not always eligible for all of them. Prepaid mobile phones are easier to obtain but you must still purchase the phone and the charge per minute is higher than on the other plans. Used phone models are easily available, including pre-paid ones.
Old model phones are sometimes available for purchase for as little as W5,000.

To register a mobile phone you must: be at least 18 years of age; present your alien registration card and passport, show your Korean credit card (in some instances) and have a Korean guarantor (If you don’t have one, you will be required to pay a deposit that can be as high as W200,000 or more).  For some foreign residents, getting a cell phone can be a major hurdle - most non-Koreans (ESL teachers included) are only allowed to register for pre-paid card options, where per minute charges are very high. Moreover, since pre-paid cell phone calls are non-traceable, as of early 2008, some companies require the account 'holder'to return to the provider every three months to confirm her/his identity. Some offices have also charged some foreign account holders a W10,000 fee each time - you DO NOT have to pay this re-registration fee. If the provider insists, call 120 (in Seoul) or 1330 (anywhere in Korea).

The mobile phone networks in Korea are CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and not GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) as in many other parts of the world. Therefore, you cannot use a unit purchased in another country here (even if it is a Korean model) nor can you use SIM cards - they aren't available in Korea at present.

Unlocking your Korean cell phone so that you can use it when you leave the country is now possible. new phones purchased after November 2011 are likely to already be unlocked, but if you have a locked unit, you can contact your carrier to have it unlocked. More details available on our Unlocking Cell Phones page.

Short Term Phone Rentals are available – the major networks (KTF, SK and LG) have booths at Incheon International Airport. 

Regular Rental Contracts can be for different periods of time. With some you can break the contract after 3 months, but not before. There may be a penalty for ending the contract early. You may want to have a Korean speaker explain the terms to you before you sign as the documents are almost always in Korean only.

International Roaming service is available. 

English-menu mobile phones are widely available these days. This means that you have an English menu option and you can key in the alphabet as well as Korean characters. However, service messages that callers hear will be in Korean only – you can leave a voice message in English, but your caller will have to go through the first line of communication in Korean.

SMART PHONES - both imported and local brand -are now available in Korea. SK sells the Blackberry while iPhones can be obtained through KT. Samsung, LG and other Korean companies are also entering the market with their own products.
Foreign nationals will not find it easy to get a smart phone, however. Many TeleCom service provider licensees refuse to even accept applications from non-Koreans even though expats willing to pay the fulll price of the phone are entitled to buy a smart phone and register for service. Foreign nationals, who have a 2-year or longer visa are eligible to sign up for the subsidised/monthly installment service option (pending 'credit' approval). As contracts at this time are for two-years only, those with shorter visas will not be approved (regardless of how long one has actually lived/worked in Korea). Best to go the provider's head or branch office - the majority of licenced shops are neither aware of the 'rules' nor willing to take the 'risk' of signing up a "foreigner who will run away without paying".

Making telephone calls in Korea is basically the same as in most other countries. There are, however, some possible differences you may want to bear in mind:
1. When you make a call from your cell phone it’s like making a long distance call, you have to always put the area code. For example when calling a local Seoul number that you would dial directly from your home phone (793-5555) you would dial 02-793-5555 from your cell phone.
2. There are actually 555 numbers in Korea.
3. When giving your home or cell number to someone from outside Korea to call you, you have to drop the ‘0’ so the number become 2-793-5555 or 10-222-5555 rather the local use 010-222-5555.
4. Calls to U.S. military numbers fall outside the regular calling pattern – you usually have to dial 0505 and then the number when trying to reach a number on one of the Seoul installations – always a good idea to check with the person to confirm the number to use when calling from off post.

Foreign Language Call Center 
KT (Korea Telecom) offers customer service in English, Chinese and Japanese. You can call for free from your KT mobile phone - in Korea 1583 and from outside Korea +82-2-2190-0901. Fees do apply if call is made from a phone other than your KT phone. In Korea from phones other than your KT phone: 02-2190-1180. The Call Center is open from 9AM to 7PM, Korean Standard Time. 

K4E Editor's Note: Korea4Expats.com wants to provide the most accurate and complete information possible so if you noticed any errors or omissions on this page, please let us know at info@korea4expats.com

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Last Updated on 2015-03-17

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